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04.22.18 Freedom all Around Acts 16:16-34 Sermon Summary

by on April 23, 2018

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person.

My name is Dzvezda. It means “Star” in Macedonian. I live in Philippi, where there aren’t many Jews. In fact, there aren’t enough men to have a synagogue. They just have prayer groups. I got myself in a little trouble, and I found myself in prison.

That’s where I met Paul and Silas. For them, as is so often the case, their trouble started with a girl. She was said to have a spirit of divination and was a fortune-teller. She was enslaved to these owners who made a lot of money off of her.

But I have to wonder, How good a fortune teller could she have been? We were told she FOLLOWED Paul and Silas, repeating their message after them. She did not go ahead of them and predict it. . . But there must have been some money in it somehow, because her owners it go on for days. They were probably hanging back and peddling it somehow.

Anyway, eventually it upsets Paul, and he orders the spirit out of her. You know, it’s dangerous to interfere with big business, especially with bad guys like traffickers. It’s even more dangerous when the trafficking is legal exploitation, which is more common than you think.

So the owners dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities—in fact they took them to the marketplace. It would have been a friendly audience. And as if it weren’t bad enough that they had upset big business, the owners threw religion and politics into it. They said, “These men are Jews and they are advocating customs we Romans can’t adopt.”

Now everyone was upset, because you know, private religion is OK, but you start to upset the market and challenge the government, there will be hell to pay. So the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped of their clothes and then beaten with rods. They were severely flogged and imprisoned.

It seemed to me a really harsh reaction just for casting out a spirit. Which got me thinking: Maybe it wasn’t simply a spirit of divination Paul addressed. Maybe it was the spirit of exploitation. Here was this financially enslaved girl who obviously understood Paul’s message. Maybe he saw her hoping for salvation but recognized that her circumstances possessed her.

Anyway, they were thrown into prison and way back in the innermost cell. We all heard the stocks lock around their feet and we thought, These must be some really bad guys!

About midnight we heard singing and prayers and laughter! Then we thought, These guys are on something. But later we thought, No, they’re on TO something. Because the place started shaking like the year King Uzziah died and the Prophet Isaiah saw God in the Temple—everything shaking everywhere. It was like God had shown up in our prison!

All our doors swung wide and our chains fell off. We heard those stocks down the cell block open. We were amazed and terrified, and looked down to innermost cell. It was astounding, but Paul and Silas just stood there, completely unsurprised, tranquil and confident.

But at the other end of the jail, we heard screaming. The jailer had drawn his sword. He despaired for his job and then for his life thinking we had all escaped. But then Paul’s voice rang out from the darkness: “Don’t do it; we are here!”

The jailer, he runs in, not with a sword but with torches. He brings Paul and Silas out and asks how he can be saved. Isn’t that ironic—the jailer asking the prisoner how to be free? To be honest, we were wondering the same thing all night. How did Paul and Silas do it?

In the middle of the night. At the end of a very long day. During the darkest hour. Trapped in the deepest bondage. Bodies beaten by the crowds. How were their spirits free to sing?

We listened attentively for the answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus.” “Lord Jesus!?” That’s really dangerous talk. Everyone knows there’s only one Lord and his name isn’t Jesus—it’s Caesar. Again, private religion? Fine. But call Jesus Lord—or worse, live like it—and that’s going to cause you a lot of trouble.

But none of us, not even the Roman jailer, could deny these guys were free. They were free in a way no one else was: More free than the slave owners. More free than the jailer. More free than the magistrates. More free than the crowds.

I was like that slave girl said: They were slaves of the Most High God. And they knew a way of salvation. And that made them free.

So the jailer, he believes. He takes Paul and Silas and washes their wounds. Then they wash his wounds in the waters of baptism. Then they eat together, breaking bread and sharing a cup. The rest of us heard them talking and praying and singing. Then Paul and Silas joined us again back in the prison, freer than anyone on the outside.

And I realized something. The jailer could be free of fear. The slave owners could be free of greed. The girl could be free of exploitation. And I, Dzvezda, I could be free also. I know a way of salvation. I can believe on the Lord Jesus.

And if I can be free, so can anyone. So can you. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Amen.

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